Larry Yan approaches the day with gusto – whether the day begins at the original Chinese Child Care Center in Roseville, at the Chinese Child Care Center on Pierce Butler Road in St. Paul or the sparkling new Chinese Day Care and Preschool that straddles Northeast Minneapolis and Saint Anthony Village. He will need that energy as he tackles the challenges of caring for and teaching scores of eager children, age 16 months to four years – now nearly 60 children at three sites. Young learners are tackling the basics, learning their numbers, colors, foods and more in English and Mandarin Chinese in an environment graced at every turn by music, art, dance and Chinese culture.
My introductory poking around took me to the brand new Northeast site. Larry has to be a magician. He’s somehow managed to convert the former Kentucky Fried Chicken on Kenzie Terrace with bright walls decorated with art, a playground carved from nothing, and a warmth that inspires growth and learning. I couldn’t help but notice that he has even exorcised the grease smell, which Larry allows took considerable doing.
Passing drivers may not even notice the simple “Chinese Day Care and Preschool” sign that’s been posted for several months. Neighbors don’t realize that Larry and his wife Junxia Li have been at work for over a year, preparing for the first class of learners who arrived in September 2010. They gutted the building, replaced the electricity and plumbing, completed massive stacks of forms for permits, licenses and financial reports. They hired two qualified teachers and made arrangements for professionals to provide dance and music instruction. They tested every inch for safety, painted all of the concrete block walls, and covered every wall with vibrant colors, letters, pictures and inspirational thoughts. They made arrangements for fresh lunches to be delivered each day by a small local restaurant
The details are nothing new to Larry and Junxia. This is their third child care/preschool site.
It all started eleven years ago when Jungxia started a family day care center at their Roseville home. In no time they had exceeded the home care limits and had aggregated a waiting list. When Jack and Jill moved out of St. Christopher’s Church on Hamline and Highway 36, they seized the opportunity and opened their first facility. Four years ago they opened a second child care center/preschool near the Yinghua Academy in St. Paul. Though some of their young clients are adoptees, that number is dwindling as China puts limits of foreign adoptions. Other children come from Chinese or mixed families. None of the Centers is neighborhood based – children from throughout the Cities and from far-flung suburbs are dropped off each day to immerse themselves in the language and culture of China.
Larry positively glows as he talks about the special features of the child care and preschool programs. There’s folk dance and music, celebration of the Chinese New Year, a “graduation” ceremony for four-year-olds headed on to kindergarten—an event that draws over 300 friends and family members to a grand event at St. Christophers and that features each “graduate” in an individual performance representative of Chinese culture.
Larry came to the US in 1989 as part of an exchange program with the University of St. Thomas where he enrolled in the Curriculum and Instruction program at the UST. Junxia and their young son joined him 3 ½ years later. Larry taught at Breck in Golden Valley, then took a turn at the travel business. Meanwhile Junxia was building the family business at home, ready to take the plunge to open the first center in Roseville.
Larry and Junxia have plans. Though the enrollment at the Northeast program is miniscule at present the school will accommodate 25-30 students. They will continue to work with Yinghua Academy in St. Paul and nearby in the former Putnam School in nearby Northeast Minneapolis. They will outreach to nearby neighborhood and community groups. The children are already scheduled to perform in February for the Roseville Seniors!
Northeast Minneapolis residents and nearby neighbors in St Anthony Village have a rare privilege to welcome these new neighbors to the community. Out with KFC and on with these young global citizens!
Huan Ying! (Welcome!)